Saturday, December 15, 2007

HFF Quickie: Bar Bambino

Something's up. I'm growing skeptical of dining out.

Weird, huh?

Have I reached the peak of my abilities? Am I a 14 year old Bulgarian womens' gymnast? A 28 year old baseball pitcher? A 10 year old Thai hooker? Is it all downhill from here?

I hope not. I really do.

Maybe it's growing up in the Bay Area, being inundated with organic and natural for most my life. I've been surrounded by the best ingredients and some of the finest restaurants in the world since I was born. I grew up in a home where dining together, experimenting in the kitchen, and copious wine drinking was what it meant to be family. I've lived at the epicenter of modern American sustainable cooking for seven (Christ, really?) years. I've been working in that business for close to four.

I've easily spent the per-capita GDP of Albania on dining out, wine, and kitchen gadgets.

I'm over it. Really, I am.

Dining out doesn't have the cachet it once did. Most things I eat out I can either cook myself or am very good friends with people who can. I can get almost any weird ingredient I want to within a five mile radius of my house. Perhaps most importantly I've come up with better uses for my money (e.g. Thai hookers).

That being said, there's still room to be impressed.

Bar Bambino, on a dirty little stretch of 16th Street at Capp in the Mission, impressed me. Despite it's gross (but gentrifying) surroundings, the owners have carved out what I can only say is the perfect neighborhood haunt for the surrounding community of hipsters-cum-yuppies.

I didn't mean for that to sound as dirty as it did.

It's a tiny narrow storefront with a beautiful bar, a large communal table, a handful of banquettes, and a nice outdoor patio.

The menu is Italian wine bar/cafe type fare. Nice selection of salumi (much of it housemade) and a compelling cheese selection. Diverse selection of antipasti, salads, homemade pastas, panini, bruschette, and more substantial entrees round out the lengthy menu.

It's a fluid menu that matches the fluidity of Bar Bambino's hours (open all day 11AM until 11PM on weekdays, midnight Fri/Sat) and location (tech companies, non-profits, artists and arts agencies). Have a panino and espresso lunch. Drop in for an after work glass of wine and a snack. Grab dinner. Or get a post-theatre dessert and select from a nice assortment of dessert wines.

Girlfriend Charlie and I just had a few snacks and some wine. The salt cod and potato on toast was delicious, as was the spicy pomodoro bread stew. The homemade pasta was al dente and flavorful. While yes the wine list is all Italian, Bar Bambino offers wines from every possible region of a country that is very much underappreciated for its viticultural diversity. Italy's not just big reds and light acidic whites, folks.

We returned after our evening event for dessert and had a great not too sweet olive polenta cake with sea salt and a dense bitter chocolate mousse. Both were fabulous. Sitting outside on the covered, heated, cedar-enclosed patio with rain falling above us we felt like we were inside the world's most awesome sauna.

Was anything mind-blowing or innovative at Bar Bambino? No. Service was great. Atmosphere is excellent. Design is stylish without being trendy. Bar Bambino fits perfectly in its space.

While I can't say Bar Bambino was transcendently memorable, I can say that I'll be back frequently.

And that's something I can say about very few restaurants.

Bar Bambino
2931 16th St. (at Capp, between Mission and South Van Ness)
San Francisco, Ca 94103
Reservations: 415-701-8466

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